Boris Johnson hails dawn of new era for UK on Brexit Day

Aditi Khanna

London, Jan 31 (PTI) Britain's exit from the EU is not an end but a new beginning, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson who is set to deliver a message of unity to mark Brexit Day on Friday when the country finally leaves the bloc, over three years after the landmark Brexit vote.

In a video message recorded in Downing Street on Thursday and to be aired at 2200 GMT on Friday, an hour ahead of the UK’s scheduled exit time, the Conservative Party leader who took charge as UK prime minister last year with a “do or die” Brexit pledge will characterise the historic moment as a new beginning for the country.

'This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act. It is a moment of real national renewal and change,' Downing Street said in a read-out of Johnson’s address to the nation.

'Our job as the government – my job – is to bring this country together and take us forward. And the most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning,” it reads.

In keeping with the message of unity, Johnson is chairing his first Cabinet meeting on tour in the north of England and has chosen the city of Sunderland – the first city to declare support for leaving the EU in June 2016.

“This is the dawn of a new era in which we no longer accept that your life chances – your family’s life chances – should depend on which part of the country you grow up in. This is the moment when we begin to unite and level up,” says Johnson, who has vehemently campaigned for Brexit over the years.

The UK’s formal end to its membership of the economic bloc, the so-called divorce, comes into effect at 2300 GMT on Friday, after which it ceases to be part of any of the EU institutions, including the European Court of Justice. However, the UK will continue to follow EU rules and procedures until the end of a pre-agreed transition period, which runs until December end 2020.

During that period, both sides are bound by a Political Declaration signed alongside the EU Withdrawal Bill to strike a new agreement for their future trading relationship.

'We on the UK side want this to be an opportunity to demonstrate that we can be even greater neighbours, allies and friends. Our vision for the future relationship, for which we have a template in the Political Declaration, will define that,” UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab told reporters ahead of Brexit Day.

'We genuinely see this as turning a page, looking forward to forging even stronger ties… about reaching out to the rest of the world and be an even stronger force for good,” said Raab, another hard Brexiteer in Johnson's Cabinet.

The end to the UK’s 47-year membership of the economic bloc, which will now be made up of 27 European countries, will be marked by pro-Brexit celebrations at Parliament Square in London as well as some anti-Brexit marches in London and Northern Ireland.

The UK’s Union Jack flags are lining up the Mall, which leads up to Buckingham Palace in London, and all major government buildings in the political hub of Whitehall will be lit up in its red, white and blue colours as a similarly themed light display in Downing Street counts down the final Brexit hour.

A new commemorative 50-pence coin with the message “Peace prosperity and friendship with all nations” will also go into circulation at that moment.

Opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is due to stand down as party leader in April after a bruising General Election last month, described the historic moment as a 'crossroads' for the nation.

'We can build a truly internationalist, diverse and outward-looking Britain. Or we can turn inwards, and trade our principles, rights and standards to secure hastily arranged, one-sided, race-to-the-bottom trade deals with Donald Trump and others,' he said.

Scotland, which voted to stay in the EU in the 2016 referendum, will mark the day with candlelit vigils. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon used a Brexit Day speech to set out the “next steps” in her mission to seek a second referendum for Scottish independence.

'To achieve independence, a referendum, whenever it happens – whether it is this year as I want, or after the next Scottish election – must be legal and legitimate. That is a simple fact,” she said.

In Brussels, the UK flag will be removed from the EU buildings, with one Union flag expected to make its way to a museum in Brussels.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen paid tribute to the UK, 'contributed to the European Union and made it stronger'.

'It is the story of old friends and new beginnings now. Therefore it is an emotional day, but I'm looking forward to the next stage,' she said.

'We want to have the best possible relationship with the United Kingdom, but it will never be as good as membership,' Leyen said.

'Our union has gained political impetus and has become a global economic powerhouse. Our experience has taught us that strength does not lie in splendid isolation, but in our unique union,' she said. PTI AK NSA